I was feeling helpless amid the crescendos of fear and hate, so I rented a billboard.
For the next month, it will sit on U.S. 127 near the state capital. It says, “Be Kind.”
Kindness and respect give us peace and civility. Imbedded in public policies, kindness to immigrants allowed my ancestors into this country where tolerance and respect turned diversity into prosperity. Kindness to nature and future generations birthed the Environmental Protection Agency which, when strong, shields us from the brunt of greed’s toxins.
Given the rewards to kindness and the drawbacks of alternatives, why do we face the perils of unkindness? It can be entertaining to come down on other people. Insecurities can be coddled by fantasies of superiority. Kindness takes considerable effort. And misinformation makes it easier to rationalize unkindness.
Many cable TV and radio shows would have us believe the “other side” is very different from us. If you hear about other people having ridiculous views on an issue, have a little faith in humanity and consider the talking head might be distorting the truth to fit an agenda.
It is appropriate that Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year. Let’s zip through the post-truth era and enter the neo-truth era by raising our standard for truth. Many of the divisions in our country are artificially induced.
In truth, every Democrat, Republican and independent I know wants fewer abortions. The differences are about whether to achieve that through criminalization, or improvements in education and birth control.
Everyone I know wants to preserve our natural environment. The differences stem from differing levels of exposure or attention to factual information. We should all take a closer look at the science. I trust we all agree that if we are indeed ruining our planet, we should do something about it.
Everyone I know wants only those taxes and regulations for which the benefits exceed the costs.
Everyone I know wants to help poor people who really need our help. They also want everyone who can take care of themselves to do so. No, Democrats don’t support welfare fraud and Republicans don’t support corporate fraud.
Everyone I know wants safety. Some fear immigration and refugees due to ignorance about the positive contributions of immigrants, the quality of vetting programs, and the fact that Syrian refugees have committed no terrorist attacks in the United States.
Rather than pretend we differ on these goals, we can focus on shared objectives for a kinder, gentler world in which decisions are grounded in facts. We must stand vigilant against gullibility. Education should be a chief priority. As we understand each other better, kindness will come more easily.
Even fiction writers remind us of the importance of truth and kindness. Mark Twain pointed out that travel, which educates us about other people, “is fatal to prejudice.” George Orwell underscores the dangers of alternative facts in “1984.” And Aesop sent a clear message with his fable of the mouse that is spared by a lion and later saves the lion by gnawing through ropes that entrap him: What goes around comes around.
Despite perceived hopelessness, there is much we can do to move forward. All of us can write letters to newspapers reminding people to prioritize respect, factual information and the natural environment which sustains all jobs. Those ethical citizens with the courage, strength and finances to run for office should be encouraged and applauded.
In conversations we can take the high road, make people think, question authority. Help people find the science that supports the truth. Be a good role model. Display generosity and civility.
Remember that broken peace, ecosystems and economic systems are painfully slow to heal. We can change the tone and express compassion for all. Let’s share the truth about our common goals, respect any true differences, protest bad policies and give time to righteous causes.
With Kentucky’s motto, “United we stand, divided we fall,” our prescient predecessors cautioned us to heal the tears in society. Many a great empire before us has forgotten what is important and taken a fall. Let’s remember to be kind.
David A. Anderson is the Paul G. Blazer Professor in economics at Centre College.